Bayern Munich, the most successful club of Germany and one of the most successful clubs in Europe, have hit a new low this season in the Bundesliga. They are languishing in the 5th position in the league table at the moment.
They have not been very impressive in the Champions League either, in spite of the fact that they are leading their group after 4 matches. They have struggled to beat the likes of Benfica and AEK Athens and would certainly find it difficult in the knock-out rounds. They are also at a risk of finishing outside the top 4 in the Bundesliga this season, something that has not happened in the last 10 years.
Niko Kovac, the 47 years old Croatian, was appointed as the manager of Bayern in 2018 and has had a very rough ride at the club so far. He definitely does not have the pedigree enjoyed by former Bayern managers like Louis Van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti. Still, his good work with Eintracht Frankfurt last season, when he won the DFB Pokal with them, made Bayern appoint him. But a 2-3 loss to league-leaders Borussia Dortmund and a 3-3 draw against lowly Dusseldorf at home has jeopardised his position at the club of late.
We would now take a look at the 3 reasons behind Bayern’s poor showing this season:
1. Conceding goals while playing a high defensive line:
Bayern’s first choice centre-backs, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, are both on the wrong side of 30 and therefore, and have slowed down considerably. Therefore, it is quite natural that they find it very difficult to cope with the rapid pace of young attacking players of the opposition.
Marco Reus and Paco Alcacer exploited this weakness to score against them from counter-attacks. To make matters worse, Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba, the Bayern fullbacks, have a tendency to go into overlaps very frequently and therefore, there is usually no one to give cover to the centre-backs while they are chasing an opposition attacker. Moreover, Niklas Sule, the replacement for either of the centre-backs, is not very fast either.
Bayern have conceded 17 goals in 12 matches in Bundesliga this season and their defensive frailties have been exposed to a large extent. The same defensive weakness has been affecting the German defence in the recent past as well as the Bayern centre-backs are regular starters for the national team as well. Bayern should probably give more emphasis on defending deep and avoid playing a high line.
However, they also need a box-to-box midfielder for carrying balls from their own defensive third. Javi Martinez, their defensive midfielder, is not very comfortable with the ball in his feet and therefore, Hummels has to play as a sweeping centre-back.
In this regard, they are missing Arturo Vidal, who has left for Barcelona. Renato Sanches is probably capable of filling in for him, but he would have to be more consistent with his performances. Thiago Alcantara can do that too but would have to be far more mobile.
2. Inability to play with a suitable formation:
Bayern used a play a 4-3-3 a few years ago with Robben and Ribery as the two wingers and Robert Lewandowski as the striker. Ribery has played in 403 matches for Bayern and scored 117 goals and Robben has scored 141 from 304.
Age has caught up with both of them, but, surprisingly, Bayern still continue to play a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in most of the matches. Robben has been having frequent injury problems for quite a while now and Ribery is 35 years old. Therefore, Bayern would have to stop depending too much on them and give chance to younger players.
Youngsters Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka can be played in the starting eleven as wingers or side-midfielders. Gnabry is a very fast and skilful player and could actually become an asset for Bayern in future.
Goretzka is strong defensively and can fall back easily while playing as a side-midfielder. Bayern can think of playing a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ribery and Gnabry as the side-midfielders and Thomas Muller as the support striker behind Robert Lewandowski.
Goretzka can be used as a substitute and Robben can play when fully fit. They have side-midfielders and fullbacks capable of playing frequent crosses to the box and therefore, this formation might suit them. Bayern would actually love to have players like Ivan Perisic or Leroy Sane on the flanks, but signing those players is not going to be easy.
3. Lacking an attacking midfielder who can score goals:
Bayern have desperately needed an attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals in the last few years. Muller has scored 181 goals in 458 matches for Bayern in 11 seasons but needs to be more prolific now.
When Robben and Ribery cut inside from the flanks, they usually look for a player on the edge of the penalty box to play the ball to. Bayern have lacked a player who can surge into the opposition penalty box and take shots into the goal after having received passes from Robben and Ribery.
James Rodriguez was brought in a loan with this very intention but has impressed in patches only so far. He has scored 11 goals from 50 matches for Bayern and would definitely be disappointed with his return.
Therefore, if Bayern play in a 4-4-1-1 with Martinez and Renato/Thiago as the two central midfielders, Muller would have to play in the hole behind Lewandowski and take those shots into the opposition goal from the edge of the box. Rodriguez can be used as a substitute for Muller.